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​Protect Your Identity During the Holidays

Contributed by: Heath Combs

The holiday season is meant to be a fun and joyous time. It brings families and friends together for parties, gifts, special meals and  reunions. It’s also the biggest season of the year for retailers.

This year, holiday retail sales during November and December are expected to increase between 3.8 percent and 4.2 percent over 2018 to a total of between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion. 

Unfortunately, it is also a busy time for those who take advantage of the increased transactions through fraud and identity theft. Consider the results of Javelin's 2019 Identity Fraud Study: Identity theft victimized 14.4 million Americans in 2018. 

However, there are ways you can protect yourself, your identity and your accounts during this holiday season. Below are a few tips to make sure your information is secure:

Monitor Your Credit Score

Your credit score is more accessible today than ever before, through a number of different sources. For example, Truliant offers its members a No-Cost Credit Review that examines their credit score with one of our Member Service Representatives, and discovers ways to improve and correct their report. 

Many credit card companies also offer credit reviews as a part of their standard service. Monitoring your credit will let you know if any accounts have been opened in your name, including credit cards, bank accounts and auto loans, among others. Regular monitoring can help you avoid identity theft and allow you to repair any mistakes on your credit. 

Check Your Accounts Regularly

While the days of balancing a checkbook are quickly becoming a thing of the past, most of us still keep up with our purchases and expenditures on a regular basis. New technology has given us access to this information at the touch of a finger. Almost all financial institutions offer online banking and mobile apps to their customers. 

It’s always important that you track purchases to ensure you’re not a victim of fraud or identity theft. Regularly check your account statements and recent transactions for charges you don’t recognize, and report these to your financial institution immediately if you discover something that doesn’t look familiar. 

Protect Your Credit and Debit Cards

If you have a credit or debit card, most financial institutions have several systems in place to protect your account. Here are some features you should look for with your financial institution and consider using to avoid fraud and identity theft:

Set Fraud Alerts: Fraud alerts on your account will send you alerts or trigger a phone call from a representative if any suspicious activity is detected to verify transactions. 

Report suspicious activity immediately: If you think your credit card, debit card, ATM card or PIN has been lost, stolen or   compromised, contact your financial institution immediately. Keep a close watch on your online banking accounts for  fraudulent activity. 

Phony Websites

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” but when it comes to impersonating websites, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Phony websites may look like a real version of a website, but in fact, they may be a resource for gathering account information or credit and debit card numbers.

They are often tied to fake social media sites, emails, limited-time offers and ‘unbeatable’ deals. Keep your accounts safe by paying close attention to web addresses to be sure you’re on your intended website. Watch for spelling errors and double check that the customer service number is legit. 

  • Do not simply trust the name on an email: question the intent of the email content.
  • If you receive a suspicious email with a link from a known contact, confirm the email is legitimate by calling or e-mailing the contact; do not reply directly to a suspicious email.
  • Check for misspellings or wrong domains within a link (e.g., if an address that should end in “.gov” ends in “.com” instead).
  • Do not trust a website just because it has a lock icon or “https” in the browser address bar. Check the URL to be sure that you’re at the right website.

Closely Guard Info Sent on Public Networks

Today’s smart phones contain a lot of personal information that can become vulnerable on an unsecured public Wi-Fi network. It can be tempting because you don’t have to use your data plan. However, it’s not secure. Be sure not to make any purchases over an unsecured public Wi-Fi network. A good rule is to only use public Wi-Fi for websites that don’t require login credentials. 

Avoid Phishing Scams

Phishing scams are attempts through email to get people to release key information, such as account numbers, passwords and other personal information. Phishing scams have become more sophisticated in recent years than past scams asking for an account number to transfer large amounts of money to – though these still exist. 

Now, identity thieves are sending emails from a variety of companies and organizations that appear authentic because of realistic logos. Be aware, and avoid, these types of scams to protect your information during the holidays. 

It can be easy to become a victim of identity theft during the holiday season. However, by taking a few steps early to make sure you understand how to avoid common scams and pitfalls, you’ll be able to focus on what’s important – more time with family and friends. 

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